PALACE ON BRIBERY CHARGES:  BALONEY

MANILA
, July 24, 2005
(STAR) Malacañang denied reports yesterday that it had bribed congressmen to back off from a looming impeachment complaint against President Arroyo in the House of Representatives.

Presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio said allegations of bribery on the part of administration officials apparently came from the opposition who were desperate to remove Mrs. Arroyo from office.

Claudio branded the rumored offers of P5.5 million to every congressman who refrains from signing the impeachment complaint as "intrigue." He accused the opposition of circulating the rumor to create suspicion that the impeachment process against Mrs. Arroyo was being subverted.

Presidential Management Staff chief Rigoberto Tiglao said the accusations were being magnified and used as black propaganda against the administration.

"Kalokohan ‘yan, kalokohan (That’s pure baloney)," Tiglao exclaimed.

Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the allegations of bribery were an insult to congressmen.

"We don’t know where these (charges) are coming from, but they are very unfair to the congressmen. It’s also unfair to the institution itself," Bunye said.

Bunye said the President had declared her willingness to submit to the impeachment process and, on the recommendation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), even ordered the creation of a truth commission as a fact-finding body that would help resolve the charges against her.

A party-list lawmaker, Rep. Eulogio Magsaysay of the Alliance of Volunteer Educators (AVE), claimed he was offered P5.5 million in cash and project funds as an incentive not to sign the impeachment complaint against the President.

Magsaysay told a news conference that two of his lawmaker colleagues and three people identified with the President had tried to dissuade him from signing the amended complaint.

Although he did not identify those supposedly offering bribes, Magsaysay claimed he was told to be "more practical" and that the money could be used to fund his region’s projects.

"Their offers were P200,000 in cash as down payment, P300,000 more to be given when the complaint is being heard by the committee on justice, and P5 million in project funding," he said.

Aside from the cash and project funding, the callers offered to work for the proclamation of Henry Chua, another member of AVE, by the Commission on Elections.

Magsaysay declined to identify the bribers except to describe them as his "friends."

But the lawmaker warned he would be forced to reveal their names if his family becomes the target of a demolition job.

Magsaysay, a teacher, signed the impeachment complaint on Thursday believing that the alleged wiretap conversation of President Arroyo amounted to an impeachable offense.

Members of the majority bloc have denied making offers to discourage their colleagues from signing the impeachment petition.

Claudio said no funding release by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for projects of congressmen in their districts was tied to politics or pressure to back off from the impeachment complaint.

"Kung may mga releases na lumalabas tinitiyak po natin sa taong bayan na wala itong kinalaman dito sa impeachment (The fund releases are not connected in any way to the impeachment)," he said.

Claudio stressed he was reluctant to talk to lawmakers on the issue because the impeachment complaint will be discussed in the House when sessions resume on Monday.

Claudio assured Malacañang was not engaged in offering cash or project funding to save the President from impeachment.

‘Irresponsible Statements’

Administration lawmakers, on the other hand, claimed it was the opposition engaged in offering money to potential endorsers of the impeach complaint.

House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles (Davao City) challenged Magsaysay to identify the two congressmen who allegedly offered bribes.

"Congressman Magsaysay should name names to clear the hundreds of congressmen who are not involved here," he said.

Nograles also warned Magsaysay that "he may have to answer to his peers in the House when session opens."

"Magsaysay has certainly damaged the image of the House with his statements. As majority leader I know there are no such authorized offers made to anyone by the majority," Nograles said.

He said the impeachment process "is a judgment call on the part of every House member" and that "he shall decide (based) on his own discernment and conscience."

"He himself must make that personal decision," Nograles said, referring to Magsaysay.

The Davao lawmaker said Magsaysay made "irresponsible statements" and floated the possibility that "he could have been used by the minority opposition for the latter’s political gimmickry and propaganda."

Nograles disclosed that many of his colleagues had called him up regarding Magsaysay’s exposé.

He claimed many congressmen expressed "disgust" over the allegations since anyone who refused to sign the complaint might now be seen as suspect.

"It’s one of the oldest psychological tricks in politics," Nograles said.

"They want to make it appear that they have the moral high ground in this whole impeachment affair and those who are not with them are all dirty and corrupt," Nograles lamented.

He also branded the allegations as "very insulting to the members of Congress."

"Bribery is a crime under our laws. He is a congressman and he should know this," Nograles said.

"He should stop mouthing these allegations if he cannot file a case against those who are allegedly trying to bribe him and substantiate the same in the proper court of law. If not, he should apologize to the entire chamber," he said.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, on the other hand, belittled opposition claims that the number of congressmen signifying their intention to sign the amended impeachment complaint had increased to 50.

"As far as we know, they fall far short with only 40 congressmen or less willing to sign the impeachment (petition). The numbers they provide (are) not for mere propaganda," he said.

Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan, for his part, warned Magsaysay that he could be the subject to disciplinary action by the House over his statements.

"That’s unbecoming of him as a House member. Responsible men act responsibly. If he believes the impeachment process is being demeaned, then he must resign," Domogan said.

Domogan claimed Magsaysay is being used by the opposition to propagate lies against the majority. "Or he sold his lies to the opposition to be welcomed in the group with open arms." he added.

The Baguio lawmaker added Magsaysay might have raised the claims just "to let the public know he exists."

"He should file a case before the ethics committee and prove his allegations, otherwise his statements should be dismissed only as wild imagination," he said.

Domogan and Parañaque City Rep. Eduardo Zialcita said the bribery tales are expected to escalate over the weekend since it is apparent the opposition is having difficulty gaining support for the impeachment complaint.

"They are panicking because their smear campaign and blackmail schemes failed to drum up endorsement to their complaint," Zialcita said. - Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago, Delon Porcalla


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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